Pondering presence versus presents…

This season is, to me, about love, sacrifice, compassion, joy, and giving from the heart. But I’m at the age where my parents are looking to retire, my grandparents are dealing with decades of retirement and medical expenses, my friends and siblings are handling new jobs and mortgages and expanding families, and lil ol’ me is here, still dealing with this expensive body and this (lovely) low-paying artist’s life.

When we all don’t have money to spend, why can’t we find another way to give?

That’s what this challenge is supposed to be. I’m running into a few problems, though.

First, I’m asking other people to alter their behavior. By saying “I’m neither giving nor receiving gifts this year”, I’m telling people how they need to interact with me. It’s gotten awkward. I didn’t realize how many people I actually exchange small tokens with this time of year. But how else am I supposed to handle this part?! “Thanks for the thoughtful present. In return, comfort yourself with the knowledge that I’m improving my sense of self on your behalf!” Fortunately, those close to me get me trying out weird things for the sake of my health and sanity, so no relationships have suffered to greatly in this process. It did, actually, finally spur my family to not give excessive gifts between them, and to draw a name instead. (score!)

Then, the purpose of this was to figure our ways to show affection with deeds… which only works for people I interact with. I’m doing my best: On Christmas Eve, I’ll be driving directly to my grandparents and making dinner for when my family joins. I’m babysitting for good friends of mine this weekend when they’re in town and need someone to watch their angel while they go perform. I cooked a holiday meal for my writer’s group, after our meeting last weekend. I’m meeting as many friends as I can for teas, shows, and cookie exchanges. All kosher. But my godfather down in Florida? My best friends in Virginia?

My bestest friend recently pointed out the conflict that is not being able to do when you have a serious illness. I face this to a degree, and others I know deal with this to a far greater extent: you can’t show the love and support you feel for another because you’re not physically able to — either because of proximity or because of physical inability. You then feel inadequate: “It’s the thought that counts” doesn’t really hold up when someone else just gave your nephew a new iPhone, or spent three nights watching your grandmother so your mom could take a break and sleep.

So, like what I learned during the No Shopping Challenge regarding the benefit of being able to buy stuff to sooth when you’re sick… there is something to be said for buying signs of affection during the holidays, when you just can’t be there to show how much you care.

The greater meaning of this challenge hasn’t been about the commercialism of the season, though. It’s more about realizing how much I want to do for people in my life in general. I get a huge amount of satisfaction in doing small deeds for others — making someone’s “favorite” thing, doing an audio recording of a book or poem, helping with cooking or editing or designing for their work, watching their children… but how do I incorporate this more into my daily life after the season without burning out this body that gets so easily burned out?

And how do I get better at receiving gifts of favors from others? I’ve only recently realized that I may have grown a bit of a thick skin, being a woman who’s been single and sick long enough that she’s learned to handle it all her damned self. It can be hard to ask for help, and hard to receive it. Even when I really, really need it.

How can presence replace presents throughout my year?

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